The Music First Audio room was getting a lot of buzz around the show for its sound: delicate and detailed, a sound which emphasized Chet Atkins’ nimble shredding on “Snowbird” perfectly. Like his fast-fingered attacks, the playback from a Revox reel-to-reel A77 fed to the passive Music First Baby Reference Preamp ($7900) into Rogers LS35A speakers powered by a Bel Canto S300 was nuanced and swift. Sam Tellig reviews a similar Music First Audio Classic Magnetic Preamplifier ($4185) in our upcoming June issue. Also appealing in this room were gorgeous and compact stands from Hi-Fi Racks.
The mad rush to check out the first available rooms at zero hour at a hi-fi show can be a harrowing experience. Even though everyone has a map of the exhibits within their program guide, sometimes just meandering and finding the room that calls out to you is the best way to choose. Well the bowl of Reese’s Cups and mini-packets of Whoppers outside the Veloce room sure did speak to me, as did the sound. Paired with YG Kipod 2 Signature speakers and powered by two class-D monoblocks from Veloce, the V-6s ($15,000/pair), sound was clear with a deep black backdrop, probably because these amps run on batteries, which managing director Mark Conti said was “more complicated than simply putting a battery in a box.” This system accurately simulated the live attack of a hi-hat and the sharp snap of a rim-shot on the edge of snare. Conti then happily played This Is Right Now, an EP by my band Heroes of the Open End cut at a home studio in Brooklyn. The system revealed many of the flaws in this recording, including poor bass equalization, unrealistic drum sound, and balance issues between the guitars. Doh! Next time we’re going to a real studio!
The open and relaxed feel of the orchestral music immediately impressed me upon entry to the Wes Bender Studio room. One showgoer played his demo track of Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, and immediately again, I was overwhelmed by the size these speakers could create yet how relaxed the remained. Music flowed from their pores (and drivers).
Wes Bender Studio NYC clearly cares about the way things look and sound. The components here shared a clean appearance and worked together for a big, bold sound. Making their NYC debut were the Hansen Audio Prince E loudspeakers ($39,000/pair) and Viola Audio Labs Crescendo preamplifier/DAC ($19,000, including Apple iPod Touch).
My first stop for my very first hi-fi show ever was the Woo Audio room, appropriate as most of my listening is done through headphones. Their stalwart Woo Audio 234 MONO monoblock amplifiers, a prototype built to amplify both headphones and loudspeakers, facilitate simple tube switching via a “tube switching key” or TSK. The WA-234 MONO accepts 2A3, 300B, and 45 power tubes, and by the simple twist of the key, you can change your power tube. With some Audeze LCD2 headphones, this system recreated the gentle and sweet reverberations of David Russell’s guitar with ample air surrounding each fingerpick. Also enjoyable was listening through their electrostatic headphone amp, the WES ($7,790), which allowed me to distinguish between Izzy and Slash’s snake-tangled guitars on “Welcome to the Jungle”. Consider me woo-ed.
In a previous post, I talk about the cliché track selections one experiences at a hi-fi show (see “Hotel California”), so I was happy to hear one of my favorite groups, Rodrigo y Gabriela, in the Red Wine Audio Room. Their cover of Metallica’s “Orion” sounded crisp yet subtly refined and represented the true tonality of an acoustic guitar. Playback through Red Wine Audio amplification and Kudos C20 loudspeakers created a wide soundstage.
Even at low volumes, the sound coming from the Red Wine Audio/Fidelis AV room was detailed, engaging, and easy to enjoy. The system I heard was made of Red Wine’s Isabella vacuum tube preamp/DAC ($4000) and Liliana monoblock power amplifiers ($6000/pair), an MSB transport, Tellurium Q cabling, and a relative newcomer to the Fidelis line, England’s Kudos C20 loudspeakers. While all Red Wine products are battery-powered, the Liliana is especially interesting because it is the first Red Wine amplifier to employ a class-A tube input stage and a class-A/B MOSFET output stage.
Also on display in the Red Wine Audio room was the company’s Audez’e Edition headphone amplifier, optimized for use with the popular Audez’e LCD-2 headphones. The complete system ($4900) includes the amplifier, a set of LCD-2 headphones, and ALO Audio’s new Audez’e headphone cable. If you already own the headphones, however, you can purchase the amp and cable for ($3950). Price includes a very nice carrying case. This happy listener said the system sounded wonderful.
There’s been lots of excitement slash praise over the Bricasti M1 DAC ($7,995) here at Stereophile from the two Johns (that’s Atkinson and Marks for the kids at home), so I made sure to take my chance to hear this DAC. I was struck by the DAC’s analog sensibilities, committing warmth and space to the music, and enjoyed how the minimum phase filters showcased options for gentler roll-offs at higher frequencies, allowing listeners to choose just how much bite and space surrounding each leading edge they care for. Since the supplied speaker stands were not tall enough for seated listeners, Brian Zolner had to stand his Harbeths on dresser drawers. Check out our reviews of the Bricasti M1 here and here
I will state up-front that the Audio Note AN-E Lexus loudspeakers ($19,000/pair) and accompanying Audio Note gear was not my favorite system at the show. I did not have a favorite, as I particularly enjoyed the sound of many systems including the Sony room, the Innovative Audio room, and the High Water Sound room. Yet, I easily spent the most time at Audio Note. Why?
In the Audio Note UK room, managing director Peter Qvortrup demonstrated the company’s new Jinro Shochu power amplifier ($32,250). This is essentially a Jinro integrated amp (see Stereophile’s April 2011 issue) without the volume control and with a single pair of true balanced inputs. During my visit the combination of Jinro Shochu and Audio Note AN-E Lexus Signature loudspeakers ($19,000/pair) sounded natural, engaging, and just plain musical on selections by those two great exponents of British music, Vaughan Williams and Led Zeppelin.
The corner placement required by Audio Note speakers always raises my eyebrowsthere was even a mirror next to one of the speakers!but the sound of Ivan Moravec performing Brahms late piano works, the Op.118 Intermezzi, on a secondhand Turnabout LP, was extraordinarily engaging on the Audio Note AN-E Lexus Signature loudspeakers. This was the last room I visited Saturday night and I didn’t feel the need to visit any more rooms for more music.
At 10am on Saturday morning, my first stop was to visit Gideon Schwartz in the AudioArts room. Gideon and I had met the night before and shared hearty handshakes while basking in our Semitic auras. Schwartz welcomed listeners to come spin vinyl in his room, as indicated by his pre-show email, “Please bring your own LP's and it would be my pleasure to play them for you.” And that I did.
At the Audio Arts suite I was enchanted by the sound of my favorite 1960s-era folk trio (although I confess that that wasn't the Corries, whose debut album is seen here in the hands of Audio Arts proprietor Gideon Schwartz). "Tiny Sparrow" and other selections from the cannily titled Peter, Paul & Mary album Moving sounded colorful and clear on a system comprising the Holborne Analog 2 turntable ($5275), Holborne Analog 2 tonearm ($3475), Holborne MC1 cartridge ($1975), David Berning ZOTL preamp with phono stage ($12,300), David Berning ZH230 mono amplifiers ($18,400/pair), and the very interesting Zellaton Concert loudspeakers ($59,750/pair), the drive-units of whicheven the tweeterare all descended from the Pawel laminated metal-foil cone woofer.
I remember being impressed when I looked inside my low-impedance Miyabi 47 phono cartridge and counted approximately 14 turns of wire per channel on its coil former. Haniwa has now produced a cartridge with an even lower number of turns per channeltwo!for an internal impedance of just 0.8 ohms. Nevertheless, Haniwa has used various materials and construction techniques to maintain a quite reasonable output of 0.35mV. The Haniwa HCTR01 cartridge, which is also a notably high-compliance design, is available for $12,000. Michael Fremer reviewed it in his November 2011 “Analog Corner” column.